Florida State Seminoles at BYU Cougars Preview

And so the Seminoles take to the road for the first time this season.  Can Florida State take down Brigham Young in Lavell Edwards Stadium?  Let's break it down.  

  • Viewing Information:  7PM Eastern.  Available on the Versus network.  Comcast customers have it, Dish Network customers have it, Direct TV customers do not.  
  • Weather Info:  our resident meteorology buffs break it down.  The weather looks great! 

UPDATE:  well we did it.  We wrote the article that broke SBNation.  It was so epic that the system couldn't handle it and like a shooting star, we couldn't get it back.   So there will be no super in-depth breakdown of the Cougar defense and the FSU offense.  I don't have time to re-write it.  But I will give you a recap

  • Spread BYU out and run.  They aren't big or fast, FSU should be able to run the ball on this defense if they spread them out and make BYU account for the bubble screens via alignment.  Oklahoma ran on BYU and they were dumb for not making BYU play honest.  FSU needs to keep them honest via the bubble.  Stay committed to the run game.  I really believe that BYU's defense is not as good as they have shown.  Remember the article.  BYU can't handle mobile QB's.  
  • Simplify Coverages via the run game and the constraint plays (bubbles, draws, etc).  BYU in predictable coverages is much easier to beat than a BYU that can run anything it wants.  Make BYU blitz from a greater distance by spreading them.  BYU can't handle mobile QB's. Byu_off_coverage_medium   if BYU aligns like that, FSU will simply throw Bubble Screens like they did all last year for 10+ yards over and over and over again.
  • Stay patient.  I don't think BYU will blitz much early.  Take what they give you while dictating alignment via formation.  Force BYU to take risks- both play and formation.  When they make their adjustments to FSU's run game, beat them with the play-action pass.
  • Stay in good down and distance.  BYU is not a team that handles play-action well and they can definitely be beat by play-action off of a good running game.  Force them to make difficult alginment decisions.
  • Attack vulnerable players in coverage.  Bouman and Hooks (2 middle linebackers) are bad in coverage, and without their staring free safety, BYU will be playing a 215lb and a 206lb safety, both of whom are slow.  
  • Long snap counts.  If BYU is going to shift pre-snap, make them show it and then sit in it.
  • Honestly, the 2nd part of this preview was epic.  It had videos and pictures and diagrams and I am really frustrated.  Enjoy the look at their offense.
  • Prediction:  FSU rushed for 220 yards and throws for 240 yards, while controlling down and distance reasonably well.  Ponder runs the ball a lot more than he has shown this year. FSU scores 31 points to BYU's 28.  Player of the game:  Offense- Christian Ponder.  Defense:  Kevin McNiel.  See inside for the other author's predictions!


Florida State's Defense against BYU's Offense

They run a power spread attack.  What does that mean?  Basically, offensive coordinator Robert Anae uses the personnel he has to make his offense, and he just so happens to have a very big running back, a likely NFL tight end, and a talented fullback.  The 'Noles will face a shotgun offense featuring multiple non-wide receiver skill position players.    Their linemen look to have 28 inch splits (rough guess).  For reference, FSU's offensive linemen will use 18" splits this year and used 12 inch splits last year.  


Notice how big the splits are.  This makes it exceptionally hard for opposing defensive ends to get to the quarterback.  In an interesting twist, FSU's defensive ends are horrible so far this season, so that may not matter as much.  

Here is an article:   BYU Offense and Protection Scheme.  It is from Texas Tech, and their current offensive coordinator Anae authored a decent portion.  Of particular note is the way they handle twists and stunts by the defensive line.

Here's another on their offense.  

Because this year is only two games old, it's important to look at last year's performance and then adjust for the changes in personnel and playcalling.  Last year, the Cougar's offense looked like this...

Category Performance Nat'l Rank
Total Offense 6.3 Yards/Play 18th
Scoring Offense 34.2 PPG 20th
Passing Offense 310 Passing Yards/ Game 6th
Rushing Offense 134 Rushing Yards/ Game 72nd

That summary makes BYU's offense look really good.  But were they really that good, considering their competition level?  Actually, they were pretty good.  The advanced performance measures indicate that BYU was quite good on offense.  Here's a look:  

Category Nat'l Rank
Opponent Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 19th
S&P+ (opponent adjusted measure of success and explosiveness) 6th
Rushing S&P+ 23rd
Passing S&P+ 8th

So the traditional measures say 18th or 20, and the smart measures say 19th or 6th.  That's a very good offense.  Not Texas Tech, UF, USC, or Penn State good, but comparable to the likes of Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Oregon.  I use teams from different conferences to show the importance of adjusting for the quality of defenses faced.  

So far in 2009, BYU's offense has had mixed returns.  In their landmark win over Oklahoma, BYU averaged 5.0 yards per play against a very good Sooner defense.  They managed to score 14 points, and had 4 turnovers.  Clearly, that's not impressive, though they did enough to win the game.  Against Tulane, they ran an astounding 79 plays, averaging 6.7 yards per snap, which is much better.  I have my doubts about their offensive performance against Tulane, however, as they were only up 20-3 at half, and really poured it on when an undermanned Tulane team quit in the 4th quarter.  I guess when you're in the MWC, you have to run the score up to get respect.  Let's break down their personnel, then get into the game plan.  But first...

A haiku:

Hulking Precision

Lacking in Explosion

Touchdown Anyway


Let's start at the QB position, where BYU has a star in Max Hall.  He's 6'1" and 200lbs.  He's the kind of kid who is a very good college quarterback, but who doesn't have much of a pro future due to his sort of average physical tools.  He is however, very accurate and reads defenses very well.  He was 1st team All-Mountain West in 2007 and 2nd team last season.  Here is what he did in 2008:

Situation (2008)
G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD Int Rating Att/G Yards/G
All Games 13 477 330 69% 3957 8.3 35 14 157 37 304
vs. Winning 5 201 129 64% 1550 7.7 8 10 132 40 310
vs. Non-Winning 8 276 201 73% 2407 8.7 27 4 175 35 301
in Wins 10 348 257 74% 3150 9.1 34 6 179 35 315
in Losses (TCU, Utah, Arizona) 3 129 73 57% 807 6.3 1 8 99 43 269
vs. Ranked (AP) 2 83 43 52% 479 5.8 0 7 83 42 240
vs. Unranked (AP) 11 394 287 73% 3478 8.8 35 7 173 36 316


Those are some very impressive overall numbers.  The TD-INT Ratio against ranked teams, and in BYU's 3 losses, however, is a huge red flag.  Such a red flag that I decided to look closer.  

Opponent Defensive Efficiency (Lower Number is Better) Nat'l Defensive Rank BYU Points Scored
TCU -0.437 8 7
Utah -0.33 14 24
Florida State -0.32 20 ???
New Mexico -0.163 38 21
Arizona -0.126 42 21
UCLA -0.091 52 59
Air Force -0.032 59 38
Wyoming 0.071 70 44
Colorado State 0.205 87 45
Utah State 0.222 89 34
Washington 0.379 111 28
San Diego State 0.451 114 41
UNLV 0.516 115 42

TCU and Utah were the only two teams who had a defense similar to FSU's quality, and BYU managed 7 and 24 points, respectively.  And BYU was a combined -9 in turnover margin in those two games.  I think there is a speed issue.  BYU simply cannot replicate FSU's speed in practice using their practice squad.  Hall was a combined 43-83 in those two games.  He did not throw a TD in either game.  

Against Oklahoma this year, Hall went 26-38, for 328 yards, with 2 TD's and 2 INT's.  He was also sacked 4 times.  BYU managed 14 points.  That's still a fine performance, despite the interceptions against a very good Oklahoma Defense.

It would seem that we have a case of beating up on bad opponents- and BYU certainly had a lot of those in their cupcake schedules over the years.  

Hall is not a tall quarterback and as a result, he has to rely on throwing lanes (the spaces between his linemen) to see and throw.  It's very important to get pressure on Hall because he is is not a runner.  He is smart and accurate, however, and if the 'Noles don't get pressure in his face, he will complete some passes and hurt them.   

Running Backs

BYU is more than set at the running back position.  While BYU doesn't run often, they do run very efficiently, and their passing offense, like most passing attacks, is made much better if they can get the run game going. 

At running back, Harvey Unga has had back to back 1,000 yard seasons, and last year went for 1132 on 240 carries (4.7).  He also caught 42 balls for 309 yards (7.4).  At 6'0" 240, he is a load and BYU will continue to pound him on the ground.  He's a good runner but he definitely had a sophomore slump in terms of explosiveness.  So far this year he has battled a hamstring injury, but is expected to play against Florida State.  How much he can go is a question.  His backup is JJ Di Luigi.  He's a smaller, quicker kid and looked good against Tulane.  Also be on the look out for Brian Kariya.  

Fullback Manase Tonga.  Tonga is 6'1" 240 and a load.  He will pound the ball occasionally, but also blocks very well and catches the ball out of the backfield.  

All of BYU's backs do the little things very well.  They don't miss blitz pickup assignments.  They catch the ball out of the backfield.  They don't dance and they do get upfield quickly to gain yards. 

Against Oklahoma, BYU rushed 29 times for 47 yards (running plays only, no sacks).  That's an average of 1.6 yards per running play.  They crushed Tulane for over 200 yards.  Take from that what you will.  


Receivers/ Tight Ends

BYU is still breaking in two new starting receivers, having to replace  Austin Collie, who was far and away the Cougar's best weapon.  He left early for the NFL and was BYU's go-to guy.  Collie had an NCAA Best 106 catches for 1453 yards and 15 TD's!  The Cougars had the 2nd best 3rd down conversion rate in the nation last year, and Collie caught a bunch of those.  Also departed Michael Reed, who went 49-589-2.  He was the Cougar's #2 receiver (though not their 2nd best receiving option, as you'll see below.  So BYU had to replace an NFL wideout (which is pretty rare for BYU), and their #2 wideout. 

Their number one weapon is Tight End Dennis Pitta, 6'5" 250lbs. The Senior is a legit NFL Tight End Prospect, consistently listed in the top-5 draft eligible tight end prospects, nationally.  Pitta has both the athleticism and the production to back up his status.  Last year he had 83 catches for 1083 yards and 6 touchdowns.  This year he has improved his game, and caught 7 balls for 90 yards against Oklahoma.  He is Hall's prime target, and all 'Nole fans know how much trouble the 'Noles have had covering the tight end (though they are often burned by afterthought tight ends, not necessarily high profile tight ends).  Some great tight ends have killed the 'Noles, however, like UVA's Heath Miller and many from Miami.  Pitta belongs in that group.  

Here's a hilarious fake press-release on FSU's struggles with the tight end position, written by Ricobert11:

August xx, 200x

Coach (fill-in-the-blank) reminded reporters today of his intention to see the TE more involved in FSU offensive playcalling. "[So-and-so player] really impresses us with his athleticism. Believe you me, we will find a way to get that boy the ball."

FSU has looked to get more offensive output from their TEs in light of recent years lack of productivity. "I really just want to help the team out," said returning starter Tight Enderson. "We're really gonna surprise some folks this year. Teams will have to account for all skill players, not just our wide outs."

While FSU has had trouble finding the open TE, other teams have not. Miami TE Dozen Matta-Who scorched FSU's secondary for 9 catches and 173 yards in last year's rivalry game. The year prior, TE Enni-wun In-pads made a show case out of the game with a 15 catch / 227 yard / 4 TD performance, soliciting the first-ever mid-college season NFL free agent contract from the Oakland Raiders. In-pads would later, famously, go on to be the first player to ever sue against his own NFL Draft eligibility status, and win.

FSU has no excuse not to cover this tight end.  He is BYU's biggest weapon by a long shot and should be identified on every play. FSU should really treat him as a wide receiver.  He's been 1st Team All-Mountain West for 2 years running and should be 1st team All-America. An excellent route runner with glue hands, he will be a challenge for this Nole defense.  Luckily, the 'Noles have Dekoda Watson, who has the ability to limit Pitta.  If they use Watson to rush the passer, however, they will need to bracket Pitta with other players.  

The Cougars also have tight end Andrew George (6'5" 250'), who went for 23 catches, 219 yds, and 6 TDs.  In any case, George would start for most teams and is an excellent 2nd tight end option.  Against the Sooners, he snagged 3 balls for 26 yards, including a TD off play-action.  Watch for him on the goal line.  

Trying to fill the void left by Collie is be McKay Jacobson.  The 5' 11" 192lb Soph has good speed.  As a freshman in 2006 (remember, these kids go on missions.  He is 21 as a sophomore), he caught 28 balls for 547 yards and 3 TD's.  Against Oklahoma he grabbed 4 balls for 69 yards.  BYU has thrown him several middlle and jailbreak screens as well, so be on the lookout for that.  I believe that FSU CB Patrick Robinson should be able to handle him one-on-one with very little trouble.  

At the "X" receiver position, BYU has O'Neill Chambers.  He's 6'2" 208, and one of their bigger targets at wideout.  He has excellent hands.  Some say he has big play potential, but I haven't seen that yet.  The 3rd wide receiver spot right now, the "H", is between Junior Luke Ashworth, Matt Marshall, and Stephen Covey.  There's a possibility that Stephen Kozlowski gets in there as well.  Really though, BYU prefers to throw to their bevy of backs, tight ends, or the top two wideouts.  

All of BYU's wideouts run excellent routes.  Their offense features a lot of quick passing and it is built on precision.  A lot of their routes are timing routes.  BYU's wideouts are where they are supposed to be.  They are on the same page with Max Hall.  Hall throws the ball before they are open.  Oh, and all of them can catch.  It's absolutely paramount that FSU's corners play solid man coverage against the Cougars.  BYU will eat up zone because they have a very good quarterback and mature (24 yearolds) receivers who understand where the holes are in a zone.  Also, FSU plays horrible zone defense.  They might not be the fastest, but they are good.  I do think this group is missing a big-play threat in Collie.  


Offensive Line

The Cougars lost 4 multi-year starters.  Three of them were All-Conference as Seniors!  The 4th made 28 career starts!  In all, BYU loses 153 starts, an incredible number (probably the biggest loss in the nation). 

Losing 4 starters means that one guy returns, and he happens to be the Coug's best lineman.  Matt Reynolds is to BYU what Andrew Datko was to FSU- a Freshman All-America.  BYU threw the ball 500 times last year and Reynolds (who is 21, with his mission and a redshirt), allowed only 1 sack.  He's 6'6", 320, and a serious NFL prospect.  

Right Tackle will be manned by Junior Nick Alletto, who is considered a good pass protector at 6'6" 318.  The Junior busted up his knee this off-season, but looks to have held onto the job.  He's also at least 23 years old.    They think he is very good in pass protection.

At left guard is was to Jason Speredon, a Junior.  He's a junior who has played in 21 games but apparently started none.  Suffered from an ACL issue as a redshirt freshman.  He's 6'5" 305 and my notes (I keep a little notebook on our opponents) say that coach Bronco Mendenhall had some good things to say about him at some point.  He obviously lacks experience against decent competition, however, since he's only played in garbage time.   But he is now done for the season with an injury, and was replaced by Braden Hansen, a 6'6" 282lb well touted redshirt freshman who is (surprise) coming off a mission.  I don't have much info on him other than to say that he is not as good as the Freshman All-American Reynolds.  He was average at best against Oklahoma, but guess what?  He is now down with an injury!  So he will be replaced by 6'3" 307lb sophomore Marco Thorson, who has never played in a game and is a clear step down from the guy they thought would be starting just 3 weeks ago.  

At Right Guard, the Cougars have a promising one in Sophomore Terence Brown.  6'3" 351, he is athletic for his size, though obviously not athletic on an objective scale.  BYU says he is smart and should be a three year starter.  Like the others, he has little experience (1 start as a freshman, redshirted last year). 

At Center, BYU will go with R.J. Willing, a 6'5" 305lb Senior.  He started 9 games in 2004 (yes, 2004, so that makes him at least 23 years old, possibly more).  He played in 11 games in 2007 and 5 games last year (mostly garbage time, no starts). 

This is a decent pass blocking offensive line, I think, but Oklahoma sacked Hall 4 times on 42 passing plays.  That's a sack every 10 or so dropbacks, which is terrible.  Watching the 4 sacks, all occurred when Hall pulled the ball and tried to move out of the pocket, but encountered pressure from the middle of the line.  He did do a nice job protecting the ball, and knew he would go down.  2 were on blitzes and 2 were not.  They didn't do all that well with twists and stunts.  Check out this picture:


Oklahoma had 8 men within 4yards of the line of scrimmage.  This is similar to FSU's prowler.  It was tough for BYU to figure out who would rush and who would drop.  This play ended in a sack, even though BYU had 7 pass protectors and OU only rushed 5 men.

I have to wonder how BYU will fare with their 3rd left guard in as many weeks.  These guys are huge, and do a good job run blocking within the context of BYU's scheme.  They also run a lot of screens, but I think they tip them way too early and the new left guard won't help.  If FSU was better coached on defense, I would have zero worries about the screen game.  They aren't, however, and I'm sure Chuck Amato's crew will mess up.  Still, these guys are not great downfield blockers because they are really fat and have no agility.  


Attacking BYU

Everyone knows that FSU's Defensive Coordinator has been clueless against teams who spread the formation and then run with their quarterback.  If you didn't know that, welcome to our site!  Here is a convenient table.  You may now throw up in your mouth:

2008 Total Off. Rushing Passing
Opponent PPG Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
Against Pro-Style 19 65 270 4.1 31 83 2.6 10 34 17 187 1.2 1.2 4.3 8.8 100
Against Teams utilizing the Mobile QB from a spread set
28 60 385 6.4 39 235 6.0 7 20 11 151 1.5 0.5 0.8 28 138

Here's the article with an explanation as to why this has happened.

In 2009, FSU allowed Miami's offense to put up 476 yards only 64 plays, over 7 yards per play.  25 first downs and 38 points. The star for the Hurricanes was quarterback Jacory Harris, who torched the 'Noles for a cartoonish 386 yards on 21-34 passing, more than 11 yards per passing play. He was absolutely insane on 1st down, as the Noles concentrated on Miami's run game.  Quarterback Jacory Harris torched the FSU defense on first downs, going an incredible 14-18 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, good for an unheard of 247 quarterback rating (yes, a few points from perfect). Florida State allowed almost 16 yards per passing play and over 20 yards per completion! Miami passed far more often than they ran on 1st down and yet FSU made very few adjustments. And it wasn't just one or two long completions. Harris connected on passes of 40, 39, 31, 29, 27, 24, 20, 19, 18, 11, 8, 7, 6, and 5 yards. It continued throughout the game as FSU made no adjustments.  Last night, we saw that Miami's offense is quite good as they torched Georgia Tech.  Miami's wideouts are awesome.  BYU's are not the same type of player, but they are very good in their own way.  

But BYU presents an interesting case.  They spread their formation, true, but they use Pro-Style personnel!  Their best skill players are two full-back sized running backs, and two tight ends.  I expect to see some three-wide sets against FSU, but not much in the way of four wide receivers.  BYU will also run from the I-Formation, sometimes with Two tight ends.  They are multiple to the max.  

But this isn't the type of spread FSU usually struggles with.  Hall is not a runner.  FSU won't hesitate to pursue the runner when there appears to be a handoff, because there is little fear Hall will take off.  I am inclined to classify BYU's offense as more of a pro-style, as despite their spread alignment, they do not run their quarterback, and use big personnel.  In fact, as I discussed above, it makes sense to call BYU "Big Texas Tech", since that is where their offense came from.  BYU makes their living on precise throws and timing routes.  The most important key to this game, however, will  be to win the battle in the middle.  FSU must make BYU one-dimensional.  Teams who turn BYU into a throw-only team typically dominate them, as it kills their play-action game.  And for the most part, BYU doesn't want to run the ball.  They are sometimes quick to abandon the run game, and have done so to their detriment several times in big games in recent years, including against Oklahoma.  Getting pressure on Hall, specifically up the middle in his face, forcing him to throw on the move, is also important- but it needs to be done without blitzing a bunch.  FSU's defense is made to play the pass.  It dominates the pass.  If FSU can have any success stopping BYU's run, the 'Nole's defense should be okay against the Cougar's passing attack.  That's not to say it will shut it down, but that's not the goal.

Despite their lack of success against the pass against Miami, this Noles defense is still built to play the pass and not the run.  I'm not crazy, hear me out on this.  Miami found most of its passing success when FSU was focused on stopping the run- 1st down.  Look at this breakdown against Oklahoma:  

  • 1st down Passing:  14-18, 285 yards, 2TD, 0 Int, No sacks.   PERFECT QB RATING
  • 2nd Down and 6 or less Passing:  2-4, 51 yards, 0TD, 0 Int, 0 Sacks, QB Rating 157 (very good)
  • 2nd Down and 7 or more Passing:  1-3, 0 yards
  • 3rd and 4 or less passing: 1-2, 5 yards (1 first down).  
  • 3rd and 5+ passing:  3-7, 46 yards, 0TD, 2 INT, 2 Sacks QB RATING:  40

As you can see, FSU plays very good pass defense when they know the pass is the overwhelmingly likely play from the offense.  But make them worry about the run too much and the Nole's coverages become predictable and they get beat.  If BYU is smart, they will try to run the ball and stay balanced against Florida State.  

So how does FSU stop this and make BYU become one-dimensional?  By winning on-on-one matchups.  If they run from their I-formation, FSU will stack the box with athletes and simply dare BYU to beat them to the corner.  That probably won't consistently happen.  If BYU sees FSU sneaking that 8th man down into the box (and let's be honest, it's not a sneak, FSU just does it), they will need to throw the ball against one-on-one coverage.  This is the first crucial one-on-one matchup FSU must win.  FSU's cornerbacks must be able to handle BYU's receivers.  Patrick Robinson is an elite cornerback and I have no doubt he can accomplish this.  On the other side, the duty will fall to Ochuko Jenijie, or Dionte Allen.  I'm higher on these guys than most, and in the Nole's cover-1 look, they will liekly help out those two by shading their deep safety.  Of course, FSU must still take care of Dennis Pitta, their stud tight end and best player.  That should be a joint effort and the idea isn't to shut him down as much as it is to limit him.  

If BYU comes out in thier power-spread look, FSU will need to win another one-on-one matchup.  With the sizable splits BYU takes, there will be opportunities for FSU's interior defensive line to make tackles for loss.  That happens through using quickness to achieve penetration.  FSU is going to need Stewart and McDaniel to be quicker off the ball than BYU's bigs.  Tackles for loss are crucial when BYU runs from the gun because they use momentum runners.  That is, BYU's guys take a bit to get going, but once they start rumbling, they are difficult to bring down.  Much like Jerome Bettis, making these guys move laterally in the backfield will be key, as it will take away their ability to gain speed and momentum.  Tackling low around the legs will be key.  FSU should not shy away from bringing some early run pressure and shooting gaps.  Sure, this leaves them more vulnerable deep, but if FSU has any shot to win this game, they must dare BYU to beat them deep and win that gamble.  

This is an achievable goal.  And it is one FSU is very aware of (nice article by Steve Ellis).  BYU abandoned the run against TCU a year ago after TCU jumped out to an early lead.  The Cougars ran only 20 rushing plays anf 50! passing plays.  BYU averaged less than 2 yards per rush.  Last year in the Bowl game the Cougars called only 30 rushing plays, compared to 48 passing plays.  And this year against Oklahoma, BYU called 28 running plays and 43 passing plays.  Want more proof that BYU doesn't really like to run?  Against Oklahoma, when faced with 2nd and 7 or more, BYU ran just 3 times and threw 17 times.  That is what we call a tendency, folks.  Stop them on 1st down and they will give up on the run.  Also, when they did run on 2nd and 7+, OU stuffed them.  OU might have been too draw-conscious actually, as BYU beat them with play action (draw action) down the field  a few times.  He was really great at throwing underneath on 2nd and 7+ to bring up a manageable 3rd down.  BYU is a throw team, and FSU just needs to encourage them in that direction a little bit to ensure they forget the run.  

Coach Bowden indicated that redshirt Freshman Strong Safety/ Rover Nick Moody would likely start against BYU.  That's a good thing.  Moody is an intimidator over the middle and he could lay out a BYU wideout or two.  While not great in coverage yet, he definitely plays the run well and I imagine FSU will use him on some blitzes as well.  He is an intimidator. 

Make BYU win the low percentage game.  

At this point, it's probably a good idea to stop on over and read Chris Brown's article on coverages.  FSU should be able to cover BYU's wideouts deep on a reasonably consistent basis without a whole lot of safety help.  BYU runs a timing offense and throws into windows and spaces.  The goal is to force the Cougars into beating FSU through the use of low percentage plays.  A 5-yard slant against loose zone coverage is a high percentage play.  BYU is so good at throwing that stuff that if FSU gives them that, they stand almost no chance of stopping the Cougars.  But Max Hall really isn't much or a deep-ball thrower.  Sure, every QB can loft the ball downfield, but I am talking about the more challenging throws.  I'm talking about out-routes, skinny posts, etc.  If BYU is going to throw all over Florida State, the 'Noles better be sure that they force the Cougars to do it via low percentage passes.  

In order to disrupt the air-raid offense, you have to mess with their timing.  I spoke with Chris Brown and he said that FSU needs to tackle on the short stuff, confuse and pressure hall without being reckless, and key and recognize formations and route combinations.  It's a tall task, particularly because FSU's defensive coaches haven't been  very good at communicating tendencies to their players.  But it is doable, and it is doable because FSU can handle BYU's wideouts in man coverage.

As I previously stayed, BYU absolutely rips zone coverage.  FSU plays below average zone coverage, at best.  The Noles will play majority man coverage then, but with a twist.  They'll play primarily man with zone defenders sprinkled in.  Because FSU isn't really all that worried about BYU's receivers on the outside, they will look to flood the short and intermediate passing lanes.  And they can do this by playing Cover-1 press, Cover-1 robber, and something I like to call cover-0 robber.  

For the explanation of Cover-1 Robber, please go see Chris' article.  The basic premise here is that if FSU is playing man coverage, BYU is going to try and hit some crossing routes.  And they will hit them.  But with the "robber" in the shallow middle, or wherever FSU aligns him, Max Hall might have to think twice about throwing that crossing route.  Alabama did this beautifully last year to Georgia.  The goal here is to get Hall to double clutch, double pump, or just hesitate a second.  Is the crossing route really open?  Put some doubt in Hall's mind.  There's a lot of defenders to read inside of a small area.  If Hall tries to re-set in the pocket because the route is either not open, or because Hall thinks it might not be open, that could be enough time for FSU's non-blitz pass rush to get to him.  In addition, FSU can press out of this look, knowing that there is at least some safety help over the top.  The press is a great way to disrupt timing routes and puts some doubt in a quarterback's mind.  The weaknesses here are the deep ball to the outside part of the field (difficult throw), and play-action.  Remember how I discussed the importance of getting BYU out of the run game?  This is why. If BYU isn't running well, it will diminish the effect of the play-action fake.  The robber coverage can also be effective against pick routes, particularly out of the bunch formations, because often times the throw coming out of those alignments is a slant or crossing route over the middle.  Hall doesn't do a great job of keeping his eye's downfield when he re-sets in the pocket from what I have seen, 

When BYU uses multiple tight ends, I think FSU can throw another wrinkle at them.  Excuse my crude drawing, but my MS Paint is not my forte.  I call this Cover-0 Double Robber.


FSU already plays a good bit of cover-0, but this is a nice wrinkle, particularly when BYU uses two tight ends and plays from the shotgun.  It enables FSU to have a lot of guys very close to the line of scrimmage, yet has two free-lancing defenders (guys in yellow).  Again, this should be effective against BYU's run game, but it should also force Max Hall to hold the ball.  He'll think a blitz is coming, because of how many men are up at the line of scrimmage, but when he drops back, a blitz does not come and the quick throw he wanted to make is definitely not available.  FSU must force Hall to hold the football.  Disrupt timing, make him throw the difficult routes down the field, and make him hold the ball so that FSU's pass rushers can get there, without blitzing.  BYU is so good at throwing the short and intermediate stuff.  Of course, this coverage is vulnerable to the deep ball, not only on the outside, but down the middle as well.  This is a known and accepted risk should FSU elect to employ this defense at all.  Remember that Miami burned FSU's man-0 coverage several times, but that they have special athletes BYU just doesn't have.  BYU must scheme their way down the field, while Miami can sometimes just sprint.  BYU's guys won't simply fly by FSU's corners.   BYU's wide receivers are so good at making the right reads and sitting down in holes, but it is very difficult for a QB to judge both the trail man on the drag/cross and also a robber coverage guy.  FSU's speed enables them to play this coverage at times.  Also, Hall will expect blitz out of this look.  Everyone is up at the line of scrimmage, but who will be rushing?  That's the key.  With these 2 coverages, FSU should expect to get beat deep some, but when they do, it will be on low percentage throws.  

I also think these coverages will work against their Texas and Angle stuff.  

Making Hall re-set in the pocket and taking away his safe throws is smart and effective, but at some point, Hall will realize that FSU is blanketing his short stuff and will look to other routes.  That's when FSU will blitz.  But FSU must blitz intelligently.  They cannot simply walk their blitzers to the line of scrimmage and run.  Delayed blitzes should work well here.  Hall will think the blitzer is in some sort of zone coverage, but then he rushes in.  WIth the Cougar's huge splits, their linemen are vulnerable to this because they don't have the lateral quickness to slide and stop a late charging Nigel Bradham.  The key will be to get Hall to think his short stuff is covered, BLITZ, and get there after he has moved on from the short stuff but before he gets to his deep progressions.  

FSU has to do a lot better job blitzing as a team.  By that I mean that currently, FSU is very selfish when they blitz.  FSU will call a blitz, and 5 of the 6 people involved should be making sure they have proper positioning to occupy a speciifc blocker so that the blocker cannot block the blitzing man.  The the blitzer rushes in untouched to the QB.  Instead, FSU's guys all just try to get the QB.  There's no organization or coordination between DE Coach Jodey Allen and LB Chuck Amato here, and there should be.  Timing also plays a big factor here.  Shocker here, but if the offense knows you are blitzing, they will have an easier job accounting for you!  Imagine that!  When FSU does blitz in a well-timed fashion, it seems more like luck than an intentional, organized plan.  

On the Prowl.  Remember how BYU isn't very good throwing in long situations?  Most teams aren't.  Hall doesn't have the arm to drive the ball downfield into tight windows.  His ball flutters and often hangs.  If FSU can stop BYU's run, or if BYU just falls in love with the pass, FSU will have a chance to break out their prowler formation.  Remember that BYU's offensive line is huge but slow.  One false step by a Cougar offensive lineman could spell doom for Max Hall because they can't move laterally quick enough to handle a blitzing defender.  In any case, FSU likes to line up guys in crazy spots, with everyone standing up and only onw down lineman.  FSU got the idea from summer trips to New England and Pittsburgh.  It's very tough for the offense to know who is blitzing and who is in coverage.  The Giants under Bill Belichek and Parcells used this to perfection against the Buffalo Bills in super bowl XLii in Tampa.  Jim Kelley's shotgun offense was limited by the uncertainty.  Against an offense that is based on automatic throws "if he is here, I throw here", FSU must create some uncertainty as to the QB's reads, and at the very least, must make him choose the difficult throws on his decision tree.  The key though is to make BYU 1-dimensional.  A good team will run right at the prowler if a defense employs it in a non obvious passing down situation.

Here's a good look at the prowler: (click to enlarge and read)Prowler_1_medium

Remember, force 3rd and long!

Also, be careful of the Screen game.  BYU runs a lot of screens, which is another reason not to blitz heavily (though faking the blitz and backing off should be great).  I don't think BYU is a great screen team because their linemen are so slow, but they run them well enough.  They also ran a Shovel-pass last weekend.  Here's a screencap:


The guy in red is the pitch man.  Tulane covered it so Hall kept it, but I don't expect to see this from BYU against FSU.  They probably just ran it so FSU would have to waste practice time defending it.

In the end, I think FSU can be successful making Hall hesitate, forcing him into difficult throws, pressuring him once he is comfortable, and keeping him from being perfect.  BYU will get their 28 points and 415 yards, but they will also have 2 or 3 turnovers.  I just don't trust this defensive coaching staff to both come up with and impart a cohesive, logical gameplan to FSU's players.  Thus, I can't see them Holding BYU under 24 points.  But 28 is reasonable because FSU will get to the ball faster than some of BYU's other opponents, and that could rattle Hall and his receivers.  I would not be at all surprised to see a tipped pass go for an interception the other way.    



Welcome back to "The Final Score," our weekly prediction column that our readers have been clamoring for all week.  This is where we, the self proclaimed experts here at Tomahawk Nation,  match our through in-depth understanding, analytical skills, wisdom, and football knowledge, against you the readers psychic abilities, or better yet, guesses,  for Saturday's expected shoot out between our Florida State Seminoles and the Cougars from BYU.

Before getting into the predictions for this week's game, I would like to recognize loyal Tomahawk Nation reader chris28, who last week won something shiny for his prediction and for coming closest to the final score in last weeks FSU-Jax St near debacle.  Congratulations chris28.

So let's get it on.

First we will start with the predictions from kool-aid drinking, glass is half-full, homer authors here at TN, or even better yet, THE GOOD GUYS.

The K-Man= FSU 27 - BYU 21
oline0175= FSU 28 - BYU 24
MattDNole= FSU 31 - BYU 28
nolesblogger= FSU 35 - BYU 31
TrueCubbie= FSU 35 - BYU 33
pbysh= FSU 28 - BYU 24
FrankDNole= FSU 45 - BYU 35
Next, here are the predictions from those no-good, know nothings, or those we lovingly refer to as, THE BAD GUYS.
Nattylite= BYU 49 - FSU 24
SWFLNole= BYU 38 - FSU 28
Fsued= BYU 28 - FSU 24
And finally, we have
ricobert1= who is MIA, but will be added to one of the two categories when he responds,
and of course
FSUn= TBA in the upcoming Game Preview.
Now we are eager to learn what the most knowledgeable Nole fans on any of the FSU boards expect the final score to be for this game.  Once again, the prize will be something shiny which will be given for the closest prediction (not spread) to the final score.  At the end of the season, the reader (or author) who has won the most Shiny Awards will receive the grand prize, a much larger and  shinier prize.


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